Message In the Mistletoe

Mistletoe Dharma


In the light of recent musings on Karma, randomness, interconnectivity and the miraculous every day nature of life I thought I might recount an interesting little explorative adventure I had with my friend Abbie recently.


A week or so ago Abbie came to photograph moths at the Walled Garden, which we will use to promote biodiversity awareness. I am always fascinated to talk to Abbie as she has such a deep knowledge of plant and wildlife cycles and of niches and interconnections. Over a cup of tea and within our discussion on how to encourage and preserve biodiversity in the garden, we moved on to trees. Abbie told us of an interesting discovery she had made last winter – mistletoe growing in East Lothian on Poplar trees, this was followed by much excited discussion around how we might plant some poplar in our arboretum or woodland garden and try to encourage mistletoe to grow on them – thus providing an interesting narrative around trees and biodiversity.

Abbie had taken some photographs and, later, in consultation with specialist botany recorders the trees were identified as a quite rare female Poplar hybrid known as Populus x canadensis var marilandica, they were planted along a field edge some time ago. On inspection some of these mistletoe clusters were over a metre in diameter. She invited me along to take a look and to consider how we might effect a transplant from the winter’s seeds.



A few days later we set off to view the mistletoe, Abbie having gained permission from the owner of the small orchard plot the Poplars bordered. This little orchard was beautiful – many different apple varieties, nut trees and native species – a well-kept secret garden. I have to say I was most amazed at the first sighting of the mistletoe – it was so huge and sculptural amongst the branches and shimmering leaves, backlit by misty grey sky. Such a moment – and I considered how numberless were all the contributors to this moment, how solid this ball of mistletoe yet how fluid all the causes and conditions.


We entered the woodland and climbed through undergrowth to get a closer look and assess how high we would have to climb to get some winter berries (to propagate we would need to collect berries and then squish them on to the bark of a polar or similar tree), our conclusion was it would take a long ladder, and a person of younger years with a very long arm! Abbie told me she could get a rough idea as to how long the mistletoe had been there by looking at branching (mistletoe branches each year into two once it is established over a roughly four year period) – she had attempted to count the branchings to get a rough estimate of age, we think about ten years. As we moved around searching out the mistletoe we mused on who had planted the poplars and what could have brought mistletoe to them – Abbie suspects Black Caps who had maybe feasted on berries elsewhere and then cleaned their beaks on the poplar bark – the seed are surrounded by a very sticky, viscous substance and in wiping their beaks the black caps had given them a niche in the poplars…Blackcaps are more frequent visitors to Britain these days (with climate change). So we have here a whole series of chance events, of cause and effect and interconnection that have resulted in the first recent sighting of mistletoe in East Lothian. What I also come away with was a deep feeling of connection with nature and within it, and an extremely educational and enjoyable shared connection and adventure.  These days what I keep coming back to is Dogen and Ujii (Being Tme), how each moment contains eternity within it, each moment contains all that has occurred to make this possible and the moment itself will be cause and effect. Moment upon moment interconnecting and flowing making an ever changing reality…ho hum, in the meantime I’m off to find a ladder and the aforementioned young person with long arm – another adventure entirely!


Much gratitude and many thanks to Abbie for a grand morning out and a wonderful encounter.



How to grow mistletoe link –




Abbie’s Mistletoe Article